We’ve been getting the exclamation question “What are you going to do when Julie retires?!” since long long before Julie set an actual date. And as the date she set last year approaches, I still don’t have a good answer. For those of you who haven’t grown up knowing Julie or made Blithewold your garden away from home and aren’t yet acquainted, Julia L. Morris is our Director of Horticulture at least through Friday. She’s been at Blithewold for 30 years, knows every last plant on the grounds and in the gardens (no joke) and has taught everyone who has come within shouting distance of the property what it really means to be a Gardener.
Julie likes to tell the story about Vita Sackville-West keeping all of the tags from plants that had died because it kept her humble. I’m not sure a plant has ever died on Julie’s watch. And if anything has died, it certainly wasn’t from neglect (more likely, Kris Green Plant Slayer got too close). And yet Julie is as humble as they come. I remember once, deep within my years on the other coast, I turned on my TV and as it warmed up to the A&E channel I heard a very familiar voice talking about how Marjorie loved to ride around the grounds on her golf cart. As the picture came into view I bounced around the couch shouting “Hey, It’s really Julie! Look – there’s Blithewold!”. Julie took her interview on America’s Castles much more in stride than I did and keeps the light of her horticultural fame and expertise under a bushel. She ought to be every bit as well known as her mentor Ernesta Ballard and as familiar a name in public horticulture as Marco Polo Stufano or Bill Thomas. But she’s much happier in the potting shed than in the limelight.
It feels like there’s a general expectation that Blithewold will implode or somehow self destruct without Julie’s constant devotion and attention. I think Gail and I and maybe even Fred and Dan half expect disaster too. But Julie chose her retirement date very wisely: The end of August is the time for enjoying the story of the garden. We can do a few edits here and there but it’s pretty much ready for the publisher. — Basically as the growing season winds down, we can’t really get in too much trouble! So it’s a good season for our transition from training wheels too. Fred will shoulder Julie’s title and burden of responsibility and Gail will continue as horticulturist in charge of the gardens.
Julie has taught us and mentored by tireless example. We all know better than to let sticks pile up on Bosquet paths, walk past a dry pot without watering it, or plant cardoons in the North Garden. Gail and I will keep growing ‘Lulu’ marigolds and choosing “that’s a Julie favorite” from catalogs and nurseries. We’ll try hard to keep a few steps ahead of the garden – no matter how pretty it is at this moment – to make sure that subsequent weeks are even better. We’ll have trick questions like “Are you going to cut back the teasels today?” ringing in our heads if she hasn’t already come by to ask them. We owe it to Julie to keep Blithewold beautifully tended to her high standards and we’ll prove it to ourselves that we’re up to the job.
Julie might be retiring but she loves Blithewold too much to really leave it, thank goodness. She has promised to help Margaret in the archives and I’ll bet we’ll see her now and again every day in the gardens too. To answer the question, “What are you going to do when Julie retires?!” I can only say, we’ll do our very best.